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Simone Jax entered the dark office space and flipped on the soft lights. One of her favorite things was her early morning habit of opening the Jax Public Relations offices in downtown Alexandria, Virginia, alone. It was her time to get centered. The quiet calm before her mom and sister arrived. The coffee was already brewing, since the beans were preloaded and she’d set the autotimer the night before.
For months they’d been gearing up their campaign for Jack Maguire as candidate for governor. He was leading in the polls, but the primary was in five weeks and there was still one other viable contender. The current lieutenant governor was planning to run, but she had a less-than-stellar political track record and was known to play dirty. Managing Mr. Maguire’s PR was like political war games, trying to stay in front of any attempts to smear his candidacy while pushing his message.
And she loved it.
From a young age, Simone remembered helping her mom map out these political publicity campaigns for local races: mayor, department of education, comptroller. Over the last two decades, her mother had built Jax PR into a powerhouse of publicity for candidates seeking public office.
Simone and her younger sister Sasha started working at the firm in high school then returned after college to work full-time, and they made a great team. Sasha focused on a candidate’s image: their wardrobe, digital marketing, and branding. Simone handled media and strategy: which donors to win over for a candidate, which buttons to push in the local political party, and identifying their candidate’s biggest threat. It was her job to find the skeletons, dirty secrets, and a solution before the competition could use them against their candidate.
Her mom referred to Simone and Sasha as the next generation of PR.
Using their massive electronic whiteboard, Simone clicked through their stair step strategy for Jack Maguire’s bid for governor. He was a squeaky-clean state attorney from a good family with a law enforcement background, and his wife just beat cancer. Only one issue stood out: Ian Maguire.
She left the page with the week’s events mapped out on the screen and moved to her desk, where she had a stack of the daily local, DC, and national newspapers. Starting with the local papers, she flipped to the social page. There he was, front and center. Gorgeous Ian Maguire attending yet another event, and the press had captured pictures of him with not one but two women on his arms. Although the pictures could be innocent, the press had decided that Mr. Maguire’s youngest son’s social life was the one area they could focus on to imply that Mr. Maguire wasn’t the best candidate for governor. It was pathetic, but it got people talking. It almost didn’t matter if it were true—once a story caught on in the press, it took on a life of its own.
“Good morning, Simone. I assume you saw the newspaper pictures of our problem child?” Sasha said, arriving in a flourish.
“I was just about to start reviewing all the papers and online news.”
Always the most stylish sister, Sasha was in four-inch heels, wearing a beautiful winter white coat over a black sheath dress. Her thick dark hair was blown out in big glossy curls, and she styled her makeup to accentuate their Indian features with black eyeliner, a subtle pink gloss, and rosy cheeks.
If Sasha was the beauty queen, Simone was the bookworm.
For some reason, Simone’s hair was a lighter mousy brown, which she kept pulled back in a bun most days. Her eyes were framed by big round glasses, she rarely wore makeup, and she preferred flats with pantsuits because they were sensible, comfortable, and professional. She had the same almond-shaped brown eyes and tawny skin tone, but she never learned how to do the perfect cat eye and always forgot to wear all the lipstick and glosses Sasha gifted her.
“Not only is he dominating the local news, but did you see that the national press also picked up the story for their weekend edition?” Sasha said.
Simone gritted her teeth. “Yes, I’m going to deal with it. I’m just making up my mind on the best tactic to take with playboy Ian Maguire. As a lawyer, he’s likely going to argue with our assessment that his personal life is casting a shadow over his father’s campaign.”
“At least you don’t have to argue about how hot he is and how much the camera loves him.” Sasha fanned herself. “I mean, how is he single anyway?”
“I’m guessing it’s because of his winning personality,” Simone said.
“You’re the perfect person to rein him in,” Sasha said as she walked away with a smirk.
Before she could say more, their mom walked through the door with a pale blue scarf over her professionally blown-out salt-and-pepper shoulder-length bob. She was wearing a matching ice-blue pantsuit and modest three-inch heels.
“Ladies, we have a problem.”
Simone and Sasha looked at each other and grabbed their perspective notebooks before following their mom into her office.
“We saw the coverage on Ian. Sasha and I were just strategizing about how to deal with him,” Simone said.
“And?” Their mom removed her coat and hung it in the closet, then moved behind her desk but remained standing.
“And Simone thinks, based on the fact that Ian is a lawyer and has dodged our suggestions to curb his social life, a less subtle approach is needed,” Sasha said and sat in one of the chic navy blue velvet chairs her mother had flanking her desk. Then with a sly smile on her face, her head bopped between her mom and Simone.
“You need to find Ian Maguire a girlfriend so he can stop making a fool of himself and stealing the limelight from his father before this campaign really kicks into gear. This isn’t the ‘make Ian the most eligible bachelor’ campaign,” her mom said, then finally took a seat in her white swivel chair.
“A girlfriend? I didn’t realize we were running a dating service,” Simone said.
“The best way to get Ian out of the social pages and press articles describing the next governor’s son as, and I quote”—her mom paused to pull up something on her phone—“the hottest political ticket in this town, we have to eliminate his bachelor status.” Her mother set her phone on her desk and folded her hands.
“We can’t just find him a girlfriend or make him find one,” Simone said.
“You know as well as I do that it won’t matter how familiar or real the relationship is. We just need the press to buy it long enough to get Mr. Maguire in the governor’s house, so we need Ian to play along.”
Simone took a deep breath and gripped her hands on her own hips. Her mother wasn’t wrong, but it still sounded ridiculous even to her. And she’d seen some crazy political stunts.
“It’s not a bad idea, since he’s not even the one running for governor. Maybe a few events out with the same girl is enough to stop all the focus on him, at least as a bachelor,” Sasha agreed.
“Fine. I’ll meet with him before tomorrow’s gala.”
“How?” Sasha asked. “He’s ignored every email, every phone call, and skipped the last three family strategy meetings on Mr. Maguire’s campaign.”
“I’m not going to make an appointment,” Simone said.
“Good. Now, let’s review the rest of the week,” their mom said.
Simone tried to stay focused, but she was distracted as she considered the best tactic to take with Ian. The only thing she could think of was to attack. He couldn’t get out of it and might even respect her approach. But he was going to hear her out and give her his undivided attention, one way or another.
End of Excerpt